Cover story -- Romero anniversary
This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  April 15, 2005

Romero called 'prophet of hope'

Prelates who served with martyred archbishop speak at Notre Dame

South Bend, Ind.

“Can you tell me anywhere else in the world where people are studying the homilies of a bishop who’s been dead for 25 years?”

The man who posed the question was Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, and he was speaking about El Salvador and Archbishop Oscar Romero, under whom he served as vicar general in San Salvador until Romero’s assassination. Urioste was one of the speakers at a conference at the University of Notre Dame March 15-17, titled “Archbishop Oscar Romero Martyr and Prophet: a Bishop for the New Millennium.”

Shortly before his death on March 24, 1980, Romero had said, “If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” And Urioste declared that the resurrection is evident in the devotion to the archbishop and his message that permeates the society. “His people love him because they knew he loved them,” said Urioste. “He did not see himself above anyone, even beggars. Now a whole new generation that never knew him reveres his memory.”

There are discussions and meetings about Romero’s approach to the Christian message everywhere in El Salvador, he said, noting that 3,200 young people recently attended workshops on his life, and 7,000 people were expected at a major conference marking the 25th anniversary of his martyrdom. Romero’s ideas have not only made ordinary Catholics aware of the church teachings on human rights and social justice, said Urioste, those teachings have made some limited impact on the country’s leadership. “At least now,” he said, “political parties can meet and talk with one another, and there are no longer the infamous disappearances and murders and outright denial of basic rights.”

Holy Cross Fr. Robert Pelton, who has organized the annual conference on Romero at Notre Dame for the past 17 years, said he sees the archbishop as a powerful figure, not just for El Salvador and Latin America but for the universal church. “He is the kind of model of episcopal leadership the church needs in the new century,” he said.

The memory of Romero is oriented toward the present and the future, agreed Jesuit Fr. Kevin Burke, a theologian at the Weston School of Theology and scholar on the church in El Salvador.

Burke and others tried to spell out those qualities of Romero that are especially illuminating for the 21st century. First, said Burke, was prayerfulness. In his early assignments, he noted, Romero’s diaries reveal his struggle with “spiritual self-seeking” and “a compulsive drive for perfection.” But when he “let himself be carried along in solidarity” with the people of El Salvador, said Burke, he “opened up” and came to realize that “a spirituality that separates us from the world” is a false spirituality.

Second was Romero’s preaching style -- centered in the Gospel but always related to the events of the day, especially the rampant violations of human rights. When Romero preached, noted several speakers, the cathedral was packed and every radio in San Salvador was tuned to the station broadcasting his words. He was not afraid to denounce those responsible for the nation’s suffering, said Burke.

Third was Romero’s collaborative approach to authority. He listened to everyone, said Burke: his priests, the people, especially the poor, his enemies and the church’s magisterium. His homilies and pastoral letters were the result of wide consultation. When critics charged that he seemed to be deviating from established traditions, Romero replied, “To remain anchored in a nonevolving traditionalism, whether out of ignorance or selfishness, is to close one’s eyes to what is meant by authentic Christian tradition.”

Finally, there was Romero’s charismatic identification with his people. As threats against his life increased, his advisers urged him to appoint a bodyguard, but Romero responded he would get one as soon as every Salvadoran citizen had a bodyguard too. The archbishop clearly recognized the likelihood of a violent death, said Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, an auxiliary bishop in San Salvador, “but he would never step back from his role as servant of the people and prophet for men and women who are denied justice.” Chávez quoted Romero’s last public statement: “I’d like to make one point clear; despite threats against my person, I assure you I will not abandon my people but rather face all the risks my ministry requires.”

Chávez said Romero speaks especially to the current age when “so much promise has been darkened by the shadows of globalism and terrorism. … He represented hope when all hope fails; he was the prophet of hope.”

Robert McClory, a longtime contributor to NCR, lives in Chicago.

National Catholic Reporter, April 15, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: